Tuesday, July 7, 2020 -
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George Wise, 1924-2008

Nothing made George Wise angrier than Holocaust deniers.

Although he was a man who preached tolerance and practiced it in his own life, he was utterly intolerant of those who claim that the Holocaust was an elaborate hoax or insidious lie.

Although his Christian faith almost always kept Wise from using profanities, he occasionally slipped when the subject of Holocaust denial came up. He could silence or condemn deniers with choice words.

To deny the Holocaust, you see, was to deny George Wise’s own life.

Not a survivor nor a Righteous Gentile, but a liberator, he was a very young man when, in the waning days of the war in 1945, his unit rolled into a hitherto little-known place called Dachau.

There, the youthful Army medic saw the work of the Final Solution –– the carnage which the Holocaust had so recently wrought –– up close and personal.

The experience, in fact, was so horrifically vivid that Wise spent much of the rest of his life trying to unload the emotional, psychic and spiritual burdens which the awful memories placed upon his shoulders.

To a large degree, he was able to ease that burden in his older years, when he embarked on a path of testimony. Starting with a 1992 interview with the Intermountain Jewish News and continuing through hundreds of presentations, Wise told his story and drove home, in his homespun and honest way, the lessons that story imparted.

He had no idea how many thousands of school students, Christian and Jewish worshippers or assorted others heard his story over the years, but there were a great many of them.

They not only heard his unvarnished recollections of the horrors of Dachau, but his simple, heartfelt and emotional pleas to banish such things from humanity. The best way to accomplish that, he was convinced, was to look directly at the Holocaust, the most grievous example of man’s inhumanity to man, and to learn from that direct look.

The road of testimony upon which Wise embarked eventually led him to Washington, where –– in the company of world leaders and renowned scholars –– he conjured the same tears and communicated the same lessons.

In 1993, while participating in the opening ceremonies for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wise heard a sound coming from a nearby street. It was the voices of neo-Nazi skinheads, shouting “Lies! Lies!” as the ceremony commenced.

At first, Wise was angry, he would later tell the IJN. He wanted to call the skinheads names and personally confront them as he had confronted Holocaust deniers before. But then he took a deep breath and thought it over. His message, he concluded, was not about hate, but about love; not about anger, but about peace.

“You can’t go through the Holocaust without being upset,” he said, “and without realizing that this really did happen, and that this can happen again if you don’t know what’s going on around you. It can happen again, and it must not.”

George Wise, who passed away last week, was a simple, strong and gentle man with a heart to match. His message, born in the ashes of genocide and forged through his own suffering, was –– and remains –– fundamentally right and incredibly important.

We were honored to know him, to help him deliver his vital message, and to call him a friend.

He, and his good work, will be sorely missed.

Read the IJN‘s full obituary for George Wise.


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